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How you can commemorate the 175th anniversary of Great Yarmouth’s suspension bridge disaster

PUBLISHED: 15:03 29 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:26 29 April 2020

The Fall of the Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridg. Photo: Gareth Davies

The Fall of the Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridg. Photo: Gareth Davies

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Virtual commemorations for the 175th anniversary of a tragic disaster in which 79 people died will go live on May 1 following a change in plans due to lockdown.

Instead of a ceremony and the unveiling of a new plaque to remember the 79 victims who lost their lives on May 2, 1845, in the Great Yarmouth suspension bridge disaster a guided tour will be uploaded to the Great Yarmouth Heritage Walks’ Facebook page - narrated by resident topic expert Gareth Davies.

Mr Davies, whose local history of the disaster has been remastered for the occasion and is available online, said that it was important to “remember the lives lost during this bizarre tragedy”, even in isolation.

He said: “It’s a shame because we’d planned to unveil the new plaque on the anniversary with words from the mayor and descendants of the families involved, organised by local fundraiser Julie Staff.”

“But the virtual option will allow thousands all over the world to learn about the history of Great Yarmouth”.

Gareth Davies, author of The Fall of the Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridge and narrator on upcoming guided tour. Photo: Gareth DaviesGareth Davies, author of The Fall of the Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridge and narrator on upcoming guided tour. Photo: Gareth Davies

He also added that “as well as new facts and analysis, in the remastered edition of my book there is a ‘micro-biography’ of the man behind it all - Nelson the Clown.”

According to Mr Davies, Nelson the Clown took a two and a half year hiatus after witnessing the suspension bridge disaster, with a Times article suggesting he felt “bodily and mental anguish”.

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But he would, in his entertainment career, go on to continue being carried up rivers in bathtubs pulled by geese - occasionally drawing bigger audiences than Queen Victoria.

Plaque commemorating the disaster. Photo: Gareth DaviesPlaque commemorating the disaster. Photo: Gareth Davies

Extracts from “The Fall of Yarmouth Suspension Bridge: A Norfolk Disaster”, provided by Gareth Davies

“Many horrific and heroic tales were told of the next few seconds and minutes after the bridge collapsed as men, women and children became an entangled mass with wood and chain. ‘One man fell across a piece of iron with his head just above the water, he reached to two girls who were struggling for life, and a third caught hold of his collar. All four were saved.’

“‘Eliza, the daughter of Mr James Borking, a dyer, aged 12 whose sister was drowned survived when she got hold of a man’s leg and pulled her out.’

“While the son of Mr Jay, the baker in White Lion Gates, said that when he was under the water, the people looked as if they were hugging each other. ‘He could see them quite perfectly.’”

Remembering the Suspension Bridge Disaster in Great Yarmouth in previous years. Photo: Steve AdamsRemembering the Suspension Bridge Disaster in Great Yarmouth in previous years. Photo: Steve Adams

“An analysis of the occupations of the heads of household confirms the view that the majority of the families affected came from poorer sectors of society. This is borne out by the number that took up the offer from the bridge proprietor, Charles Cory, to pay for the victims’ funerals. Of those that died, Cory paid for sixty-six to have a ‘decent internment’, leaving none to suffer the disgrace of a pauper’s funeral. The cost of a child’s funeral in 1850, according to the Norfolk News, was between £2 and £4. With many workingmen earning 20 to 25 shillings a week and sometimes a lot less, a child’s funeral could plunge a family into serious debt.”

“At their deaths, neither Charles Cory nor Arthur Nelson were remembered for their roles in the disaster of May 1845 — Charles Cory was remembered for his dedication and loyalty to the people of Yarmouth; Arthur Nelson, for his musical talent and humour in the ring, rather than his act with geese and a washing tub.”

“Today, our motives for remembering a historical event are often complex. Julie Staff was moved by the victims and felt there were few visible signs of this event to be seen in Yarmouth. Kevin Abbey, who carved the 2013 memorial, was motivated by the history and that the community should remember those that died.”


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